Introducing new technology in radiography: how to increase adoption?
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Study identifies ideas, views and perceptions of technology; and opportunities to increase its adoption.
By Sil Aarts, Assistant Professor, Department of Health Services Research, the Netherlands.
New forms of technology are introduced constantly in medical imaging, often leading to enhanced diagnostic and therapeutic options. However, new technology also can be a source of frustration, especially when it is not working properly or not well understood. Overcoming these hurdles takes involvement from the entire radiography department － the individual healthcare professionals as well as their managers.
As a scientist focused on technology in health care, I am interested in understanding its role in the work of healthcare professionals. Along with several colleagues, we conducted a qualitative study aimed at (1) collecting the opinions and experiences of radiographers, nuclear medicine technologists, and radiation therapists regarding the technology they use in their profession and (2) acquiring their views regarding the role of technology in their future practice.
Technology stressors in radiography
The participants in our study all worked in a technology-driven profession so it was no surprise to hear that the unavailability of technology is a significant stress factor. Poor power supply, devices not working properly (error! error!), or software applications being unavailable can not only quickly decrease imaging and diagnosis options, but also increase levels of stress. Stress also is elevated when there is no clear and quick path to knowledgeable technical support personnel who can resolve problems.
Participants also mentioned difficulties with keeping pace with new technology applications in radiography. Learning new applications, and learning to use them well, takes dedicated training time– and time, as we all know, is often lacking when working in healthcare.
For healthcare professionals who work in a highly technology-driven profession, these factors imply a constant confrontation with technology. We therefore identified, based on interviews with healthcare professionals working in medical imaging, some best practices for them and their managers to help improve acceptance and adoption of new technology. By doing so, the stress associated with it might be reduced.
The role of the radiography department in technology adoption
The role of healthcare professionals is to provide the best quality of care. A department manager’s role is to make sure the professionals working within the department have the tools they need to provide this quality of care. What can we do to help accomplish this?
First and foremost, it is important that healthcare professionals perceive the benefit of the new technology. Not surprisingly, all 52 participants in our study believed that technology should be in the best interests of patients. The manager, who often is the one who introduces new technology, needs to articulate how it will benefit both the patient and the healthcare professional.
Ideally, healthcare professionals should be involved or consulted at the beginning. We recommend engaging them from the start. Involve them in the acquisition of new technology by asking what they need. Healthcare professionals who “deliver care” are often the people who are in the best position to come up with technology-related ideas that benefit their work and their patients. Encourage them to share their ideas, views, and feedback. Their “bottom-up” ideas and engagement in the process can help increase acceptance and knowledge of the technology. Consequently, implementation of technology in their day-to-day work will be easier.
Provide adequate training tools – and time!
Our study also showed that adequate training is of utmost importance when new technology is introduced. Healthcare professionals need to feel competent to use the technology at hand. All participants in our study emphasized that they want to have some knowledge about the “underlying processes of a technology”. One participant said, “I value education because I want to know what I am doing. I can easily bush a button, but I also want to know what is behind the technology (…) I want to be able to respond to what happens.”
Related to this finding is the need to provide ample time for professionals to take the training. This often implies giving them relief from their day-to-day duties. In addition, new forms of training, such as e-learning modules or virtual reality, can play a role in training by eliminating some time and place constraints.
Some hospitals already use virtual reality to prepare kids or anxious patients for an MRI scan. Using VR devices, patients can virtually walk through the room and see the MRI scanner, thereby decreasing their stress and anxiety levels. Why not use virtual reality technology for training healthcare staff? They could more vividly experience the knowledge and skills that need to be acquired.
Of course, training takes time, and thus, costs money. However, without it, technology may not be used to its full potential. In some instances, it may even be misused or reduce patients’ safety. Hence, there should be ample opportunity to attend training in order to safely and effectively use new technology. Managers of departments can play an important role in facilitating education.
Don’t overlook technical support and evaluation
Another important factor is designating “key users” among healthcare staff. These users should know the technology or application very well and be able to help their less-trained colleagues when problems arise. Those key users, often ‘technology fans’ in general, can not only identify problems but also have knowledge regarding technical support (or know where to get it).
Also, technical support personnel should be thoroughly trained and quickly available when needed. This important factor is often forgotten when a new technological device is introduced. Managers should provide clear instructions on where healthcare professionals can turn for help when something goes wrong with the technology.
Lastly, evaluate! Often new technology is introduced and implemented but never evaluated. Ask healthcare professionals to provide feedback. Did the technology prove useful? Is everything going well, or are there problems? Do they need additional training? Only when a constant dialogue exists between healthcare professionals and their managers – in which they, among other things, discuss their experiences and needs¬ – can technology be implemented in a safe and effective manner. This, in turn, might positively influence the quality of care.
Technological options for personal well-being
The majority of healthcare professionals are very committed to their work. This commitment may even supersede their personal needs, resulting in massive amounts of stress and even burnout. Burnout among healthcare professionals is even being called an “epidemic” or “crisis”. Although technology can’t solve all issues related to burnout among these professionals, technology might provide some options for a better wellbeing. Here are a few examples.
Technology used to alleviate the physical strain of the profession, including hoists, are often received positively by healthcare professionals. The participants in our study mentioned that these technological devices have made their profession easier by decreasing the physical burden. However, a frequent complaint is the time it takes to use such a device. This leads some personnel to resort to lifting the patients themselves. Providing the right technology －and the right training － is of utmost importance to use these assistive devices in a correct manner.
Wearables are another smart option to help radiographers and others in the medical imaging profession decrease the burden of the work. For example, when wearing a wearable, one can be reminded to take a quick break or add more steps to the day-to-day routine. Alerts about posture also can be very helpful – especially for the professionals who physically lift and position patients for imaging. Moreover, monitoring sleep can give insight into one’s sleeping habits and might encourage people to positively change these habits.
The last example provides professionals with more flexibility and time to interact with patients: accessing Electronic Patient Records on mobile phones. The benefit for healthcare professionals is that their phone is always “on them” and is easily accessible. They do not have to search for an available computer before they can look into a patient record: a clear advantage for the healthcare professional. It is not hard to imagine how this could also play a positive role in the day-to-day routine of other healthcare professionals.
Of course, burnout is a complex condition, in which various factors play a significant role. Hence, these recommendations might seem trivial in reducing the “bigger picture of burn-out”. However, getting insight into one’s habits and, consequently, trying to change them might be a first step toward a healthier work-and lifestyle.
The radiographers, nuclear medicine technologists, and radiation therapists in our study all value technological developments not only to perform the core business of their work, but also regarding other aspects such as documentation, communication, and physical support. According to the participants, all technological developments should be in the best interest of the patient. Participants also pinpointed a need to receive more training aimed at increasing knowledge related to technological developments and devices. This should, according to these healthcare professionals, be facilitated by the managers of their departments.
Interestingly, when asked about the future of their profession, and thus, indirectly, the future of technology in their profession, participants provided contradictory answers. While some expect less autonomy in the future through the use of technology, others believe that the implementation of new technology will lead to more autonomy for healthcare professionals. These results underscore the already ongoing debate regarding the role of medical imaging professionals in the future of healthcare.
What steps are being taken to increase adoption and satisfaction regarding technology in your department? Please add your comments below; and feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
This blog is a recap from the original study that can be found in the Journal of Medical Radiation Sciences.
Sil Aarts, PhD, is an assistant professor focused on how technology and data can improve healthcare. She works at the Living Lab in Ageing and Long-Term Care, part of the Department of Health Services Research, at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. Dr. Aarts delivered a presentation on this topic at ECR 2019.